Over the course of its 148-year-old history, Government College now a university has leveled the path of a throng of scientists who went on to become personalities of international standing. Through hard work and dedication, these luminaries have made the name of their alma mater resonate in all the quarters of the world. Not only that, they also serve as a potent source of inspiration for all the would-be scientists of the country. This year, The Scientific Ravi Team decided to pay homage to one such distinguished scientist, who spent his prime years in the premises of GC(U). Professor Dr. h.c. mult. Syed Muhammad Qaim is a Nuclear Physicist whose life is embroidered with a succession of scientific achievements. He started off his journey in the old-school Chemistry and Physics labs of the then Government College. Upon completion of his masters in 1961, he earned a scholarship to University of Liverpool, UK; where he acquired a Ph.D. degree in Nuclear Chemistry in 1964. Thereafter, he attended Birmingham University where he obtained D.Sc in Applied Nuclear Science. In 1966, he served as a Senior Scientific Officer in Atomic Energy Centre in Lahore. In 1968, he earned an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship at Johannes GutenbergUniversita¨t Mainz, German. He joined the Nuclear Research Centre, Ju¨lich, Germany in 1970 where he completed a successful tenure of 36 years, gradually climbing up the order of top rankings. While in Ju¨lich Research Centre, he
was promoted to being a Group Leader (1975– 85), then a Division Leader (1985–2006), an Acting Director (1995–96), and finally the ViceDirector (1996–2006) of the institute. He holds a UNESCO-funded Research Professorship at the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in Italy. Moreover, Prof. Qaim has published more than 240 research papers and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, London (1974) as well as that of the Royal Institute of Physics, London (1974). As a TOKTEN consultant, he led various delegations to Pakistan. He also had the opportunity to serve as a Co-ordinating Editor
of the renowned international journal “Radiochemical Acta.” In 1999, the prestigious ‘Sitara-e-Imtiaz’ was conferred upon Prof. Qaim for his invaluable services to the field of science. Nowadays he resides in Germany, where he teaches Nuclear Chemistry at Universita¨t zu Ko¨ln. He is also acting as an Advisor at his former institute, Nuclear Chemistry Research Centre Ju¨lich. In March 2012, he visited GCU and conducted a free course on ‘Scientific and Environmental Aspects of Energy Production’.
The editorial team of The Scientific Ravi is grateful to Prof. Qaim for giving us the opportunity of sitting down with him and give a sneak peek into his life. He is a down-to-earth and a very scholarly individual. We hope the
conversation below will be a treat for all the avid young scientists out there!
Q. We would like to know how was Dr. Qaim as a child? Tell us something about your childhood memories.
Prof. Well, talking about my childhood memories, some are good and some not so good. I lived in a village belonging to a lower-middle class, not very rich but a much respected Syed family. So, our education emphasized more upon ethics and religion, but science was also there. My parents always stressed that you must be a good human being. This lesson has stayed with me throughout my life. I think the only thing I tried to be was a good human being because things come and go but morals are
something that always sticks with you. My childhood was a mixture; it was good but not a lavishly spent one.Though, the reminiscence is very strong. At the time of partition, I was just six years old; we shifted from eastern Punjab to the western. At the same time, I lost my father. That was a hard time.
Q. Sir! You acquired your bachelor’s and master’s degree from GC, how was your experience?
Prof: When I was in B.Sc, GCU was just a college, not a degree awarding university. My experience at GC was excellent. I think the best education that I ever got was from this institution, during B.Sc. The teachers were truly concerned about students. They not only taught Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics but also imparted significant moral education. The primary goal of the teachers was to make us confident citizens. It still makes me very proud that I am a product of this institution!
Q. During your time spent in GCU, did you participate in any extra-curricular activities?
Prof: Yes! I used to play cricket but not as a part of the college team, rather I used to play privately. At that time, GC had an ‘Ambulance Club’, of which I used to be a member. Then, I was also a part of the Debating Society, the Young Speakers’ Forum. I used to participate in debates, which boosted my confidence level. I believe being a part of debating society is one experience that really stood out for me since it shows your courage to speak. I would like to advise all the students to participate in debates.
Q. What is the difference between today’s GCU and the GC that you attended as a student?
Prof: I am living in Germany right now. So, I don’t know how much you learn from GCU today. The variety of subjects being taught in the university is good, but I don’t have any information regarding what kind of general education is being imparted, is it still the same when I used to study here or has it changed. In those times, we used to stay behind till 8 o’ clock in the evening to perform different practicals and our teachers were very hard working individuals.
Q. Tell us something about your scientific achievements.
Prof: I worked on low-yield complex particle emissions and electrolytic deposition of 57Co. My research interests focused on both fundamental and applied aspects of Nuclear Chemistry. I worked on fission with Fritz Strassman. In addition, I discovered five new radionuclides, 88Nb,88Mo, 89Mo, 120Xe and 213Pb and worked on the characterization of many others including 120I, 130I, 132Cs, 240Np. I have received 5 honorary doctorates. I was made an honorary citizen of the Kossuth University, Debreen, Hungary in 1995. I served as a Coordinating Editor of the international journal “Radiochimia Acta”. Apart from scientific awards, I was awarded ‘Siatar-e-Imtiaz’ in 1999.
Q. How was your experience of working with Fritz Strassman?
Prof: Straussman was a very nice man, a very fatherly like figure. I worked with him on nuclear fission. But then I changed my field after two years and went to Julich Centre, Germany which was much more well-established. There, I had an opportunity to develop my own idea. I worked on low-yield complex particle emission reactions. This involved chemical methods and
electrochemistry. I used a combination of activation and low-level counting techniques. My experiments also utilized statistical
calculations based on Hauser-Feshbach formalism. This work earned me Eo¨tvo¨s Lorand Medal of the Hungarian Physical Society in 1988 since it was for the first time that this kind of work was done.
Q. Professor, we read that your work on Mossbauer spectroscopy-done in the late sixties has been widely cited. In fact, the four papers have become citation classics. Would you like to tell us about that work?
Prof: I incorporated 57Co in 32 different metal lattices via electrolytic deposition and high-temperature diffusion. I then explained the experimental results by showing that the line broadening of the source in certain metals is caused by quadrupole splitting.
Q. Who was your ideal or hero?
Prof: I respected many people, but really I had no hero to tell you the truth. Prof. Rafi Chaudhry was a very good Physicist, a bit unusual though. Prof. Azeem was like a father to me who provided me with eternal moral support, his father also died when he was only six, just like mine. My father inspired me a lot, he was very generous. I also respected Dr. Usmani who is hailed as the ‘father of Nuclear Energy in Pakistan’. Dr. Abdus Salaam was a real human being. He could talk with kings and farmers
alike. Prof F. Strassman was a very good scientist and a nice person and I also revered Prof. Heisenberg.\
Q. Sir, Pakistan is currently going through the worst energy crisis in its history. What do you think are Pakistan’s energy options?
Prof: Pakistan has many options to avail. But since Pakistan is a relatively poor country, despite having prominent resources, it lacks the ability to tap their potential. At one time, Hydropower was very popular in Pakistan, but today the water is short and the dams are empty, otherwise, it was a good option. Nuclear energy is another alternative. However, Pakistan lacks
the sophisticated and advanced technology required to make safe nuclear reactors, then the maintenance of these reactors is equally important. Solar energy has a great potential but I think solar cells are much more effective than solar thermal technologies. Nonetheless, I don’t see solar energy as an immediate solution. Coal is found abundantly in Pakistan, but it emits a great deal of CO2. So, the situation is quite complex and it is hard to propose a pertinent solution.
Q. And what’s your take on biofuels?
Pakistan is spending a lot of money in this sector. Prof: Biofuels are majorly derived from food crops. Half of the world’s population is dying of hunger, there is so much hunger in Brazil and Africa and we are using food crops so that the rich could fuel his car? I am absolutely not in the favor of this. Biomass is a separate thing, ince it is non-edible.
Q. What about second generation biofuels?
They are derived from non-edible crops Prof: But even with them, the problem of CO2 persists. You have to think of such alternatives that reduce CO2.
Q. What do you think of the status of research in Pakistan?
Prof: Generally, fundamental research is done in universities all over the world. In order to promote the culture of fundamental research in Pakistan, universities will have to facilitate the atmosphere of fundamental research. In Pakistan, universities are merely teaching laboratories, with a few exceptions such as Quaid-e-Azam University, Punjab University, and GCU. Not many universities have shown keenness pursuing research activities. As far as innovation goes, there are many universities in Asia which emphasize upon innovative fundamental research. I would suggest that technological institutes, stressing on innovative
technologies, must be encouraged and promoted in Pakistan. A tradition of research must be established and for this purpose, the professors will have to play a key role. In developed countries, research is the yardstick with which your worth is measured. So, youngsters should be taught to develop their own ideas and encouraged to progress towards development research.
Q. Usually, people carry an impression that scientists have an innate ability to disentangle mysterious phenomena and to come forth with answers to convoluted questions. Do you agree?
Prof: To begin with, yes some element is there. I am growing old now, my legs have become weaker but my mind is more charged. The more experience you have, the more possibility you have to analyze things quickly. Intelligence is required, but I think hard work is also very important, particularly in the experimental field. Einstein was an exception. He had an unusual gift; he worked on the theory of relativity which is considered as a keystone of Modern Physics.
Q. Sir, the current circumstances in Pakistan are not really conducive to research. We have the economic crisis then energy crisis. What do you suggest a student should do under these circumstances?
Prof: You may try to go abroad, learn the skills and then come back and work here. Despite the crisis, there are still many prospects for the eager ones. Those who have gone in atomic energy research are well-established and are better off. But you should definitely stick to research.
Q. Does intuition play an important role in experimental and theoretical research?
Prof: Not really! I am more focused on experimental research where we rely completely on results. Intuition may play a role in
theoreticians, but even they need some substantial research to back their theories.
Q. Being a scientist is a hard job, you need a lot of persistence. What made you persistent as a scientist?
Prof: I think it’s your vision. I wanted to be a respectable person. I remember I gave my first talk in Washington D.C. The talk was half an hour long and I was only 44 at that time. When people know you are an expert in a field, they listen to the discussion keenly and ask many questions. After my talk, about 50 people came up to me and congratulated me on my talk. At
that moment, I felt much better than I could have at any elite position. So, this was my ideal; for being known for my own work. I had a clear vision for myself and I had the will to do.
Q. Apart from science, do you have any other hobbies?
Prof: Yes, I have read both English and German literature extensively. I also like gardening, it is partly my hobby and partly my job *laughter*.
Q. Sir why didn’t you stay in Pakistan and served the country?
Prof: I was offered tremendous research opportunities in Germany. When you get a golden opportunity, you shouldn’t turn it down. But this doesn’t mean that I didn’t serve Pakistan. I undertook missions to Pakistan as a TOKTEN consultant for many years. I have been supervising many Ph.D. students from Pakistan. I supervised Dr. Mazhar of GCU Physics department, and I am very happy with his work. So, I have been serving Pakistan while living in Germany more than many Pakistanis living here.
Q. Sir, in the end, what piece of advice will you like to give to the young Ravian scientists who look up to you and want to pursue a promising career as a scientist?
Prof: My advice to all of you is to have some ideal and some philosophy, influenced maybe by your home or surroundings. Stay true to yourself and listen to others as well. Be open, don’t be scared. Grab the opportunity that is offered to you and has a clear vision of what you want to become; do you want to become a VC of some university or a scientist? I knew I wanted to
become a scientist. I was offered many prestigious office positions including posts of heads, but I turned them down and told them that I wanted to do research; I wanted to be a scientist! Secondly, be confident! You can do anything. When I left GC, I went abroad with this thing inside me that I could do anything that I wanted to do. So, be sure of yourself. But don’t be arrogant. Arrogance will demolish you! Know your weaknesses and move forward confidently. Be moderate, be considerate and have the courage to know. I believe the more confident you are, the more you can help others. The dedication also plays a key role. Not only intelligence, but hard work is also very important. Without hard work, you cannot develop new ideas and can’t work on them. Many people prefer to do office work when they enter their 50s but I would be in the lab, doing experiments. I supervised many Ph.D. students, they would be working in the lab until midnight and I would stay back in my office until they finished their work. In short, be confident, be honest and work hard, you can achieve your goals!
The Scientific Ravi Team: Thank you so much, Sir. We are grateful to you for this prudent discussion. Talking to a scientist of your stature was a wonderful experience!!!